Volcanic Vista

Day 136: Cemoro Lawang / Mount Bromo, Java, Indonesia

Mount Bromo, Indonesia
Mount Bromo, Indonesia

Although my room in Probolinggo was the definition of bare bones, the hotel was nice enough to arrange transport to Mount Bromo for me – and it cost less than $4 for the one-hour trip through jaw-droppingly beautiful terrain. We twisted through a verdant, undulating landscape of terraced farmland that more than made up for the sub-par impression of Java I had developed when I first arrived. Morning mist hung suspended in the deep valleys, lending a mystical atmosphere to the vista. The fertile quality of the volcanic soil was evident here, where tropical foliage burst from the hillsides in explosions of green punctuated by colorful splashes of flowers. Impossibly steep fields blanketed the precipitous sides of the hills, guarded by farmhouses carefully placed on the slopes like sentinels. Up, up, up on the steep road, and we finally arrived at the picturesque little village of Cemoro Lawang, perched on the rim of the epic Tengger crater. Inside this six-mile-wide crater are five smaller volcanoes (including the infamous Mount Bromo) rising like phoenixes from a massive, desolate sea of black volcanic sand.

Sunrise, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia © Matt Prater

Sunrise over the Tengger Caldera from Mount Penanjakan, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia

At 7,500 feet, it was much cooler and less humid than in sea-level Probolinggo, so I decided to go for a hike along the rim of the crater. I walked along rural trails, passing only farmers, while I gazed at the apocalyptic landscape below me. When I returned to town, I walked down the steep main road for a while until it started to rain. The temperature continued to drop into the evening, and it eventually became quite brisk outside. I actually had to sleep under a blanket for the first time in weeks, but I'm not complaining.

Old woman, Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia © Matt Prater
Old woman, Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia © Matt Prater

An old woman sits outside her home in Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia.

Main street, Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia © Matt Prater
Main street, Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia © Matt Prater

A view down the main street in Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia

At the brutal time of 3:30 in the morning, I woke up and got ready to meet my transport to Mount Penanjakan, where I would watch the sun rise over the Tengger crater and Mount Bromo. At four o'clock, our jeep entered the gate of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, and we endured a bone-rattling ride down the rim of the Tengger crater, across the vast black volcanic plain, and up the winding road to the summit of Penanjakan at 9,000 feet. Considering that Cemoro Lawang was the only town around, and that I only saw a few other jeeps entering the park, I figured that there would not be many people at the summit. Unfortunately, I was dead wrong: it was packed with tourists! I was shocked, because I had not seen any foreigners at all on my way to Probolinggo, and there are not that many places to stay in Cemoro Lawang. I think most of them were on package tours, so who knows where they started off this morning. The sheer number of tourists did take away from the magic of the experience a bit, as I had to fight my way to the fence to get a glimpse of the view. But what a view it was! When the first rays of the sun lit that otherworldly, desolate panorama, I forgot all about the hundreds of other people that were watching with me. The plain was shrouded in a thick blanket of mist, and the Tengger crater's perfectly formed volcanic peaks rose like islands from a white, ethereal sea. A wafting column of steam escaped from the highly active vent of Mount Bromo, reflecting the pink glow of the morning sun, and the gigantic Mount Semeru (at 12,000 feet, the highest peak in Java) stood watch over the entire scene from the hazy distance. It was one of the most sublime and enchanting vistas I have ever witnessed.

Poten Temple, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia © Matt Prater
Poten Temple, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia © Matt Prater

Poten Temple in the Tengger crater, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia

After sunrise, we headed back down into the Tengger crater, where I set out on the path that leads to the very rim of Mount Bromo itself. I traipsed across the sandy volcanic soil, passing a uniquely positioned Hindu temple nestled at the foot of the active volcano, and began to climb up the rocky slope. The final ascent features a steep stairway that ends on the precipitous rim of the crater. Out of breath and breathing only the sulfuric fumes belching from the volcanic vent of Bromo, I finally reached the top. One side of the narrow rim dropped precariously into the steaming crater; the other side descended at a slippery angle all the way to the plain below. It was one of those special places that begs you to step outside of the moment and say to yourself, "I can't believe I'm really here."

View from Mount Bromo, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia © Matt Prater
View from Mount Bromo, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia © Matt Prater

View from Mount Bromo, Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia